The bill would help promote drought resiliency, adjust to climate change and keep California’s food supply safe.
By Dan Errotabere
Dan Errotabere is a farmer in the San Joaquin Valley town of Riverdale.
John Monroe, Special to CalMatters
John Monroe farms near the town of Arbuckle in the Sacramento Valley.
With the House of Representatives back in session, we are pleased that one of the first items on its agenda will be consideration of the bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate last month.
We hope our congressional representatives used their summer break to experience firsthand the desperate situation all Californians face. Wildfires threaten communities, homes and lives; devastating drought is hurting businesses, the environment and the farms Californians count on to grow healthy food.
Passage of this bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help promote drought resiliency, adjust to climate change, protect the environment, mitigate wildfires, maintain a safe, healthy, local food supply and ensure communities have the water they need to run their homes and power their businesses.
Just two years after our reservoirs were full, we’re once again in drought. Between the two of us, we grow almonds, tomatoes, garlic and garbanzo beans – nutritious foods our families have been growing here for decades. But this year, some California farmers have been completely cut off from surface water supplies and even forced to rip up crops already planted.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill will expand our ability to capture both surface and groundwater in times of excess for use in times of scarcity.
Storage projects large and small will improve water supply, expand flood control, improve downstream water quality and provide ecosystem benefits. In February 2019, 18 trillion gallons of rain fell in California, more than enough to meet the annual needs of every citizen and farm in the state. But due to inadequate storage, much of it washed out to sea. We can’t afford to let that happen again.
This bill will also fix the system of pipes, canals and aqueducts we rely on to deliver water to our taps but this infrastructure is more than 50 years old and failing.
It also provides for improved forest health and watershed management, which will help mitigate wildfires and protect the forested areas and lakes critical to California’s water supply.
And this bill will ensure the nearly 1 million Californians who lack access to clean drinking water, many in small, rural and disadvantaged communities, have access to clean water.
Making our water supply more reliable will also help Californians at the grocery store by ensuring farmers have the water necessary to grow our food. If we fail to provide water to farms, it will mean less locally grown food in our markets and restaurants, and increased dependence on less-regulated imported foods.
This historic legislation will allow us to “Build Back Better” as outlined by President Joe Biden. This means utilizing improved technology on recycling and desalination as well as investing in habitat restoration, forest management and “green infrastructure” projects such as groundwater banking.
Farmers are part of California’s long-term environmental and economic recovery solutions, and we have the track record to prove it. We’ve decreased the amount of water we use to grow food by double-digits since 1980 and also make positive contributions to the environment by planting cover crops and employing other strategies that help sequester carbon. We actively participate in restoring and maintaining wildlife refuges, and dedicate land for flood control. Farms and related businesses also provide jobs in 56 of California’s 58 counties.
But it still takes water to grow food, and time is running out. Without action by the House of Representatives, the long-term viability of our family farms, the culture and sustainability of our rural communities and the environment in the West is in jeopardy.
The Senate passed this legislation with rare bipartisan support and the president is ready to sign it. All eyes are now on the House to bring desperately needed relief to a parched California and the West by promptly passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire California delegation – having seen the devastation here at home – should lead the charge.